Also considered: “There’s nothing wrong with planning budget cuts behind closed doors!”
The first one never gets old, by the way.
At the January 8, 2008 Board of Supervisors meeting several subcommittees were created by Floyd Thomas to handle certain issues (2008-01-08 BOS Minutes):
Chairman Thomas stated that he wanted to take the Chairman’s prerogative and make some appointments of his own. He said that the School Board Superintendent, Chairman of the Board and the County Administrator meet on a regular basis and he would like to create some subcommittees, one being on education. Chairman Thomas asked Supervisor Popowicz to be a part of a utilities subcommittee where he could meet with Mr. Ramsay on a regular basis. He asked Supervisor Rozell to serve on a sub-committee for public safety, Fire and Rescue, and the Sheriff. Chairman Thomas asked that Supervisor Acors be in charge of a Finance subcommittee. He asked Supervisor Sili to be in charge of and serve as Chair of the education subcommittee.
Chairman Thomas said that these subcommittees will cover five major areas [the minutes don’t specifically mention the Economic Development Subcommittee but I believe Floyd Thomas was heading it up -ed.] of the County in a little more detail from a Board perspective and hopefully be able to report to each other on a regular basis.
Why the excessive use of underlining and bolding? The Virginia Freedom of Information Act, § 2.2-3707(C), requires the following [emphasis mine]:
Every public body shall give notice of the date, time, and location of its meetings by placing the notice in a prominent public location at which notices are regularly posted and in the office of the clerk of the public body, or in the case of a public body that has no clerk, in the office of the chief administrator.
§ 2.2-3701 defines a “public body” as the following [emphasis mine]:
“Public body” means any legislative body, authority, board, bureau, commission, district or agency of the Commonwealth or of any political subdivision of the Commonwealth, including cities, towns and counties, municipal councils, governing bodies of counties, school boards and planning commissions; boards of visitors of public institutions of higher education; and other organizations, corporations or agencies in the Commonwealth supported wholly or principally by public funds. It shall include […] (ii) any committee, subcommittee, or other entity however designated, of the public body created to perform delegated functions of the public body or to advise the public body. It shall not exclude any such committee, subcommittee or entity because it has private sector or citizen members.
Are we all clear that these (sub)committees are in fact (sub)committees, and are considered a “public body” under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act? Yes? Good, let’s continue.
When I first contacted Percy Ashcraft asking when said subcommittees meet I received the following response:
At this time, no formal meetings have been called by any of the supervisors, but instead they have been briefed by department heads informally. Administratively, I have committees for all of these departments that supervisors have attended from time to time. And Mr. Thomas and I meet regularly with the superintendent and chairman of the school board to discuss education matters.
Oh, really? Then explain the Board Summary (the minutes for this meeting haven’t been approved [or posted] yet) for the April 8, 2008 meeting (link):
The Board authorized Supervisor Acors to work with Mr. Ashcraft and Financial Advisor Courtney Rogers at the Finance Committee meeting on April 15th on possible areas to make the necessary budget cuts to compensate for the difference in the tax rate.
After I quoted that portion to Ashcraft, he stated the following:
These are not subcommittees they are overseeing as no members have been appointed to any committee. I have turned the matter over to our County Attorney for him to render an opinion and direct the Board from this point forward.
So, I guess it’s alright for the Finance Committee to meet behind closed doors and plan budget cuts. Comforting…
Again, after pointing out that Mr. Thomas appointed a member to each of the committees, he stated the following:
I appreciate you providing the background and again I am having our County Attorney review this. The term “subcommittee” is what needs to be defined here. As I stated earlier, we have not formally appointed subcommittees which would include members of staff and possibly the public. If it is the desire of the Board to formalize this process, they can certainly do that. But at this point in time, it is not set up that way.
“[A]ny committee, subcommittee, or other entity however designated, of the public body created to perform delegated functions of the public body or to advise the public body” is a public body. These bodies clearly meet the definition of a “public body” purseant to § 2.2-3701 but the county refuses to disclose when these bodies meet and what they discuss during the meetings.